The people waved and cheered at the soldiers marching through the town. Commander Vergan moved his hand back and forth in response, grinning excitedly at the crowd.
They had expected fierce resistance from the populous, but as none came, he, and his men, could not help but laugh at their fortune. Battle in towns and cities was something to be avoided at all cost. It was impossible to keep formation and the battle often descended into chaos when the ranks were split up, unable to communicate. He recalled the dread of never knowing what lay around the corner, always glancing at the windows for an ambush. He shuddered at the experience, but he had lived to fight another day, just like today.
Though he was battle-hardened by now, he could never get used to the tension of war. It wasn’t meant for him. Yet, he had been forced into this profession, he being the youngest of his brothers and all – unable to inherit. But, he had done well for himself, all things considered.
His helmet was wrapped under his arm as he looked round. It was a small town, he noticed. All the houses built along this one main street. He had thought the town to be much bigger considering the large amount of soldiers that were reportedly stationed here. But as they’d entered, there was no sign of there ever being any soldiers around. Commander Vergan would remember to take disciplinary actions against his scouts later. But right now, he was too good of a mood to care.
But his mood was soon to be sullied as a foul, but familiar, stench entered his nostrils. “John”, he muttered to himself.
Vergan would have kicked out the man a long time ago if it wasn’t for John’s skill in the art of war. Vergan didn’t want to admit it, but John had saved him more than a few times, during this campaign. Despite this, he loathed the man, and he refused to acknowledge John as he walked up next to him.
John had a dour expression on his face and the smell got almost unbearable as he opened his mouth. His rotten black teeth showing. “I don’t like this Vergan. None of this makes any sense,” he said in a hoarse voice, clearing his throat at every other word.
Vergan barely managed to concentrate on John’s words and just glared at his mouth in astonishment. Why John refused to remove them, he would never understand, remembering all too well the pain of having just one bad tooth aching.
That John had called him by his first name, didn’t go unnoticed either, showing just how much respect the man had for him. Vergan sighed and created a bit of distance between him and John. ”It’s not strange for remote villages to switch sides like this, John. They must not have been very satisfied with their former masters. Taxing them heavily I reckon. Just get back in line and enjoy yourself; something you are exceptionally good at.”
John frowned and ignored the last remark. “Look at their houses, Verg,” John said, purposely shortening the name, losing the formality in his tone. “Do they look famished? do they look ragged? No, they don’t look like they had a bad year in their lives! Everything is too… polished. You should tell the men to be vigilant. I know I will.”
Vergan rolled his eyes. “You do that, but I will not give such command. Just look at their faces. Have you ever seen a happier bunch of—“
Vergan cut himself short and his hand lowered slowly as he was pointing at the crowd in front of him. Suddenly, something whisked by his face, feeling the air pressure as it passed. A man behind screeched in pain and crashed into his comrades as he fell. Vergan darted his head towards his men and then back at the crowd in front.
Steel gleamed by their hands and bowmen stood by the windows, their bowstrings drawn. He peered at the mass of people, their faces unchanged – all smiling happily. A shiver went down his spine as he saw them, their eyes wide and unblinking.
Vergan opened his mouth to shout a command when another shaft launched in his direction, making his words died by his lips. With a loud bang, the bolt hit against an iron shield that was placed in its trajectory; John holding the shield in defence of his commander.
Muted, and at a loss of breath, Vergan remained silent and stared at John who grinned wryly, showing the rotten teeth that he refused to pull out.
With a hoarse roar, John bellowed a command, making his voice growl like a beast. “Shields up you Wrygler scum, time to show the metal of the king’s men!”
The men responded instantly, collecting themselves from the initial shock quickly; but the shafts were already flying, breaking holes in the lines on all sides.
A few dozen of the soldiers fell face down into the ground as they got pierced by the arrows. The fallen comrades were pushed aside to fill up the gaps in their ranks, creating a wall of shields. John dragged Vergan inside the mobile fortress and let the arrows rain over them.
Vergan kept his head low, but a few arrows found their way in between the cracks of the shields and killed whoever stood behind it.
Suddenly, the arrows stopped coming. The loud clatter of iron against iron seized and was replaced by an unnerving humming, coming from all around.
As they lowered their shields, Vergan rose wearily, frightened that the archers would have a second set of arrows waiting for them, but nothing came. He straightened his back and peered across the now deserted streets and windows.
He winced as he felt John’s hand pressed against his shoulder. “You should be watching ahead, commander,” John said, putting emphasis on the last word.
He shrugged John’s hand off and stared at the enemy ahead. But, his heart sank again as he saw every man and women forming a great cluster at the other end of the street. Their mouths grinning happily as if it was the only expression they could make.
The crowd hummed rhythmically making the soldiers hesitate. Suddenly, the sun was shaded, and a darkness soon enveloped the town. The men looked around, searching for the light, but it was gone.
The eyes of the people in the crowd began to glow red and a dark mist formed above their heads. Vergan could feel his knees tremble as a face formed in the mist. His every being wanted to run, but he was frozen, kneeling on the ground as he stared at the monstrous eyes glowing above the townspeople’s heads.
The townspeople lurched forward, but the soldiers remained still. Unable to move their bodies.
Author’s note: This is a scene I planned to incorporate into the Fantasy novel ‘Book of Legacy’ but I couldn’t make it work into the context of the story. I also failed to make a proper ending within the limit of 1k words, but I figure I’d post this anyway and ask you this question:
What do you think about open-ended stories? Do you feel dissatisfied? cheated? Or perhaps you don’t mind because you haven’t had time to get attached to the characters yet?
(Thank you Rokuro-sama for providing the art)
© Christopher Stamfors